Amid a national debate about gun control sparked by a school shooting, Kutztown University's decision to permit guns on campus looks like a step in exactly the wrong direction.
Kutztown last week became the only state-owned university in Pennsylvania to begin allowing those with carry permits to pack heat in "open areas" of the general campus - including the quad, walkways, and other places outside buildings. University president F. Javier Cevallos and other officials said the policy was changed because a blanket prohibition of weapons on the Berks County campus was legally unenforceable.
State officials had advised the 14 institutions in the State System of Higher Education, which include West Chester and Cheyney Universities, to review their gun policies. But it's hard to imagine that anyone expected Kutztown to invite more guns onto campus as a result.
A spokesman for the state system said no legal challenges had been lodged against gun bans on Pennsylvania college campuses, though students and others had raised concerns informally more than a year ago. So why take a step as drastic as Kutztown's?
A few blanket bans of guns on campus by public university systems have been struck down by courts in other states. Other public higher-education institutions, such as George Mason University in Virginia, have drafted more tailored gun restrictions that have survived legal challenges.
Kutztown, which has nearly 10,000 students, will continue a general prohibition on firearms inside academic and administrative buildings, recreation and dining facilities, and dormitories, as well as at sporting and other events.
Nevertheless, some students and campus employees are understandably troubled by the prospect of encouraging more firearms on campus. They have legitimate concerns about the potential for deadly violence among students, especially when guns are mixed with alcohol or drugs.
Besides the safety issues, Kutztown's policy raises practical questions that should have been addressed before it took effect. The prohibition on guns inside buildings but not outside them, for example, raises questions about where carriers are meant to store them.
Immediately after Kutztown's new policy was announced, the state system asked its 13 other universities to delay any policy changes pending a task force's review. The task force, which will include law enforcement officials, is expected to recommend a more sensible model policy within six months.